Venetia (by Georgette Heyer)

I have a large collection of novels by Georgette Heyer, who is unquestionably my favourite historical fiction author. I enjoy all her books, and re-read them regularly.

Despite a consistently high standard and excellent characterisation, some of Heyer's books still stand out as my absolute favourites. One of those is 'Venetia', which I have just re-read for the sixth time in the past twenty-five years. Most recently I read it in 2004, and before that in 2000. I wondered if the story would pale somewhat reading it yet again, and am happy to report that it didn't.

Venetia is one of my favourite of Heyer's heroines. She's twenty-five, almost on the shelf by the customs of the time. She's quite independent, pretty secure despite having grown up motherless, and with a reclusive father whom she doesn't like. She isn't a great fan of her brother Conway, either, who has been working abroad; but she's very fond of her younger brother Aubrey, who is a classical scholar and walks with a limp due to a diseased hip.

Venetia is very beautiful, and has two 'suitors'. One who is not much older than Aubrey and is determined to be romantic, dreaming of rescuing his love from dragons, but decidedly moody. She doesn't take him too seriously. The other, Edward, is - as she puts it - worthy. Stolid, sensible, and with little understanding of who Venetia is, or how she thinks. She has sometimes considered accepting his offer of marriage because life in those days was so difficult for a single woman; but she can't bring herself to do so, fearing intense boredom.

Into Venetia's life springs Damerel, known as the 'wicked baron' in her childhood. He as a reputation for behaving badly, and being dangerous, although as she learns he does have a sense of honour despite having been a rather promiscuous young man a few years previously.

Naturally they fall for each other, and equally naturally there are all kinds of snares in their way; not least Damerel's own reluctance to inflict his stained, swarthy person on the young, beautiful and fairly innocent Venetia.

The writing is excellent, the characters come to life, the plot is fast-paced and cleverly written with plenty of surprises - even though, on the sixth re-reading, I did remember most of them before they happened.

Very enjoyable, and highly recommended. First published in 1958 and almost continually in print on both sides of the Atlantic. It's also widely available second-hand.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 6th December 2010.

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